Earlier this week, a certain TV personality ruffled some feathers when he tweeted a picture of another famous person taking a walk with his baby strapped to his chest, implying that it was a most un-masculine thing a man can do.
Oh 007.. not you as well?!!! #papoose#emasculatedBondpic.twitter.com/cqWiCRCFt3— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) October 15, 2018
I found this episode to be quite amusing, especially as a Chabad rabbi and father of seven children, including two teenagers. While I’m not offended by the assumption that involved fathers are somewhat emasculated — everyone is entitled to their own opinion — I do believe that this attitude is a stereotype we would all be better off putting behind us.
About 15 years ago, I was interviewed together with a small group of colleagues by a New York Times reporter in conjunction with the annual conference of Chabad emissaries held in Brooklyn every November. One of the questions the reporter asked was about the role of our wives in our respective communities.
Around the table, everyone agreed that the women play an equal, if not greater role, in the success of our Chabad Houses. We work as a team and that’s how so much gets accomplished. The man might be the rabbi, but the woman is often the true force behind the operation. I then added, that in addition to Chabad women being a lot more involved in communal aspects today than in the past, we — the husbands — also play a much greater role than in the past in family and home life.
Most of the guys in that group were older than me, and they were all taken aback by my assertion. They disagreed with me, and being the youngest of the group, I kept quiet and the conversation moved on to other topics.
That was when I realized that more than anything else, it is a generational thing.
It is true that traditional Judaism has very defined roles for men and women, and historically, men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. This is an important component of traditional life that will never change. But at the same time, Judaism also expects everyone to be as productive as they possibly can in all areas of life.
So while men and women will always be different, it is not out of the question for certain lines to be blurred, in a good way. Yes, in our families, women are still mostly the homemakers and are the primary source of care for the children. But we also live in a time that a man can do the dishes or change a baby’s diaper without fear of being disparaged.
Most of my colleagues that are my age — late 30s and early 40s — are more involved in our children’s lives than fathers of previous generations ever were. We know firsthand who our kids’ friends are, what they’re studying in school, where they hang out and what games they enjoy. We prepare meals for them, we hang out with them, we take them out to give mom a break, and most importantly—we grow together.
Fathers today should embrace society’s new expectations of them. True, we will never replace the mothers in their lives, but a father should not be just a figure that shows up at the end of the day and spends the weekend with the family. The responsibility of raising a family with the values that we hold dear lies on both parents equally, and when the father’s involvement is the norm not the exception, everyone benefits.
An involved father is presented with endless opportunities to be a positive influence his children’s lives. He can literally shape their future by being present and by being the role model all children need. That’s a pretty masculine concept, if you ask me.
Also, as much as I believe that I have a lot to teach my children, the benefit of being an involved parent is that I pick things up from them as well. Of course, there will always be the eye rolling (did I mention teeneagers?) and the embarrassing dad moments, but that’s a very small price to pay for a lifetime of being part of their lives.
So the next time someone laughs at a man taking a walk with a baby carrier, remember that the most manly thing a father can do is to be present in his children’s lives and they will be forever grateful for that.
Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov is co-director, along with his wife Chanie, of Chabad of Northwest Indiana. They are proud parents of seven children, ages 1 through 15. He is also a member of Chabad.org’s Ask the Rabbi and social media teams.